A Frog is a Frog
The cemetery was quiet and peaceful, the way cemeteries were supposed to be. The girl stood at the new graves for a long time, long after everyone else had left, and tried to remember how everything had been before. Her mind drew a blank, and all she could see was the here and now. A squirrel ran up the tree behind the graves, and a rabbit grew brave and ventured out to nibble on some of the remaining flowers. In the distance she could hear a lawnmower; it sounded like a riding mower, but it was on the far side of the graveyard and she couldn’t really tell. Another funeral procession drove past, wending its way to the back part of the empty ground; the less desirable portion of St. Paul’s Funeral Home and Cemetery Plots. The graves she stood at were on a slight hill, with a small lake just on the other side of the street, where ducks and herons frolicked and played, not showing the least bit of respect for the dead that lay all around them.
She sighed heavily, wondering why she was still standing there. Probably because there was no one to go home to, no one glad to see her when she returned to the little house on the corner. I wondered why she was still there, too, but I could only guess her reasons for not leaving. I took picture after picture of her lone form and came to feel sorry for her, a sudden orphan, if you could call a twenty-five-year-old an orphan.
The police suspected she was responsible for the bodies buried in the new graves, but they had no evidence to prove that. I wasn’t there to help or hinder them. I was there at the behest of my client, Globe Life Insurance Company, because there were two five-million-dollar insurance payouts at stake, and they’d rather they didn’t have to pay one, much less both, policies. I had no idea if the insureds’ daughter was responsible for their deaths, and Globe’s only interest was in proving they had a valid reason for denying the claims. I thought she looked sad, and lonely, and if she’d been responsible for the auto crash that killed both her parents, she was doing a damned fine job of pretending to grieve.
I’m not the one that usually handled insurance claims, but my partner was killed not too long ago, and there was nobody left to do the job but me. I was actively looking for someone new to work with, so far with no acceptable results. The man I really wanted to come in with me was a cop, a good one, and so far he’d resisted my invitation. Actually, what he said was, “Me, work with you? I can’t afford a psychiatrist.” I kept hoping he’d change his mind. My name’s Rick Simon, and I’m not that difficult to work with. Well, I’m not difficult to work with. Ok, I’ll admit, I can be a pain in the ass, or, as I told my other partner, Robin Short, I was an ‘edgy curmudgeon.’ I’d been doing my best to change, but so far my old reputation preceded me, no matter what I said or did.
Robin was my Office Manager, receptionist, Girl Friday, part-time operative, and mommy when she needed to be. I’d be lost without her. She agreed with me about the fellow I wanted for a new partner, but she hadn’t been able to persuade him yet, either. Fortunately, the police department seemed to be on my side. No matter what he did, or how good he was, they treated him like dirt. He’d done something that showed up his Captain, and he’d been in the doghouse ever since. I was hoping the worse things got for him on the force, the better my offer would sound. I just hated to see what was being done to him. He was a good cop, and he deserved better.
So I was currently responsible for the insurance claims, murder cases, kidnappings, robberies, thefts, identity frauds and delinquent spousal support cases, as well as everything else that came our way. The money was nice, but I was running myself ragged trying to keep up with everything. For example, I should be back at the office paying bills right now, but I was in the middle of a cemetery taking photographs instead. This morning I’d asked Robin to write out the checks, and I’d sign them when I got back to the office. Sooner or later, something had to give.
That’s when something did, but not what I was hoping for. The girl I’d been taking pictures of all afternoon walked down the hill she was on and got into a big, black Cadillac that stopped and picked her up. I got all kinds of pictures of the car, including the license plate, but I had no idea who it was. Once it was out of sight I took one last picture of the graves and headed for my car. I was still driving the rented Toyota RAV4 that I’d been in since somebody bent my Mustang almost in half in an accident, but I’d been promised my car would be finished this week. I couldn’t wait – I’d had that car for a long time. It had a lot of sentimental value.
I was almost to the car when somebody in a blue Chevy pulled up and three big men got out. I mean really big men, and they were headed my way. I didn’t like anything about this, and I ran for the Toyota. I got inside and turned over the engine, then pushed the gas pedal as far down as it would go. The tires squealed as they took hold, and I got out of there right before they got to me. I circled back around and went past the Chevy; there was no license plate on the car. I took the back exit out of the cemetery and lost them on La Cienega Blvd.
I drove back to the office and hurried inside. “You look like somebody was chasing you,” Robin observed.
“Somebody was chasing me. Three big somebodies, in a late model blue Chevy with no license plate. Can you download these onto the computer?”
“What are you going to do?”
“I’m going to call the police.” I got to my office and called Sean Donahue, the man I’d been after to join the firm. “Donahue, this is Simon. I was out at the cemetery taking pictures of the Myers girl when three men in a blue Chevy chased me. No plate. No, I got away with the camera. Robin’s loading the pictures onto the computer now. Come over if you want to see the whole thing. Sure.”
“Is he coming?” she called.
“Yes,” I answered.
It was almost an hour later before Donahue got there. “Sorry. They had me answering the phones.”
“Do you want to see the photos or hear my story first?” I asked him.
“Let’s see the photos.”
I sat him down at my computer and let him run through everything I’d taken. He wrote down the license plate on the Caddy before turning to me. “Now, tell me the story.”
By the time I finished, Robin had joined us. “Can you find out who the black Cadillac belonged to?” she asked Donahue.
“I should be able to. Can I use the phone?”
“Of course,” I told him, and he picked up the phone and called the DMV. After he gave them his name, badge number, and license plate number, they promised to check and call him back.
“Tell me more about the three men in the blue Chevy,” he requested.
“I was headed back to my car when I saw this blue Chevy drive up. 2011 Chevy Impala. There was a driver that stayed in the car, and three big men got out.”
“Bigger than you?” Donahue asked.
Now, I’m 6′2", and weigh about 180; I’m slender, but not a small man. I looked like a midget compared to those three. “Oh, hell, yes,” I replied. “Like comparing Pee Wee Herman to The Rock. I spotted them heading my way and I took off at a run. Before they got to me, I got in the car and floored it, then circled back around the Chevy to check for plates. There were none on the car. I hit the back exit and lost them on La Cienega Blvd.”
Just then the phone rang, and Robin grabbed it. “Simon Private Investigations,” she answered and immediately handed to phone to Donahue.
“Yes, that’s right,” Donahue said. “It belongs to who? Are you sure? Alright, thanks.” He handed the phone back to Robin and she hung it up.
“Well?” I asked.
“It belongs to Empire Leasing. It was rented for the day by Amy Myers. She’s the only one on the rental agreement.”
Hmm. Amy Myers. She was the girl standing at the grave. Keith and Jenny Myers’s daughter. Somehow I was having a hard time believing that. Keith and Jenny were her parents, the people that had been buried that day.
“Sometimes a frog is just a frog,” Sean quipped.
“I don’t believe that. Not in this girl’s case. I watched her a long time at those graves. She wasn’t a person about to inherit ten million dollars. She was thoroughly miserable.”
“That doesn’t answer your client’s question – whether they have a reason to deny the claims or not,” Donohue reminded me.
“No, it doesn’t,” I replied, perhaps too quickly. “But everything inside says she’s an innocent third party in all this.”
“To what end? How can this be anything other than what it looks like . . . the Myers girl had her parents killed to collect the insurance money?”
I shook my head. “That’s the cop in you talking. Look at this through different eyes.”
“Those are the only eyes I’ve got.”
I heard that and gave up all hope of ever working with Donahue. If he could only see this one way, it was never going to succeed. I could tell by the look on Robin’s face she knew it, too.
“Wrong thing to say, Donahue.” She’d said exactly what I was thinking.
He got up and left my office. The next thing I heard was the front door closing. Right about then I assumed that Sean had made his choice. And it appeared to be final.
“I guess we start all over again, huh?” I asked.
“I guess we have to,” Robin answered. “He just doesn’t know you like I do.”
“Then you see it, too?”
She shook her head. “No, I don’t see it the same way. But I know you well enough to believe in your vision and not hesitate when you see everything a different way. Eddie knew it, too. He would never have walked out on you.”
“I know, “I whispered softly. “I know. Eddie was one in a million.”
“You’ll find somebody,” she answered. “I’m just sorry it wasn’t Sean.”
I got up from the desk and turned my computer off. “So am I, Robin. So am I.”
Start writing here…